10 years sober today. WTF! I remember when I couldn’t believe I had ten days sober. How the hell did 10 years even happen?
I drank for 20 years and for all 20 of them I drank alcoholically, my first blackout coming within my first month of drinking.
Today, though, I haven’t had a blackout in ten years. Think about that — 10 years sober. 10 years hangover free. 10 years of recovery. The gratitude I feel is overwhelming. Why, then, with 10 years sober today am I’m giving up on recovery?
I’ve never fully related to the term “recovery”. The word implies that I was somehow better off before I started drinking and the work now is to get back there; to recover my way of being before big, bad alcohol came and fucked everything up. That’s not my story, though, and it’s not how I feel about it. Deep in my bones I know a story of recovery is not my truth.
I was told early on in my sobriety by a very wise woman that alcohol wasn’t my problem. She knew this was true and that I needed to hear it. I knew it was true, too. “Alcohol is not your problem.” The words resonated with me and in me. The had a presence that shook me. Strongly. Deeply. In the core of my being I felt them and it was the right time for me to hear them. It was finally the time when they weren’t just going to be an excuse to go back to drinking.
I’d known for a long time that my shit was about way more than alcohol. I’d been trying to fix it for years. And with her words, it’s no small miracle that I didn’t just go right back to it that night. “Well, shit…if alcohol isn’t my problem then I can just keep drinking while I figure out and work on my real problem.” I had already had many of those moments, especially in the last few years of my drinking. Little twists of words and slights of hand in my mind that gave me permission to keep drinking the way I wanted to. I wasn’t ready, so it didn’t take much to give myself permission. This time, though, I got it. This time I heard.
I knew alcohol wasn’t my problem. I knew that I simply hated myself. It wasn’t an option not to. It was as much a part of me as my blue eyes. As if at birth, software had been downloaded into my brain, into my very being, so that the main program governing my perception and running my life was one of constant shame and self-hatred.
I had always hated myself and relentlessly punished myself internally. When I discovered alcohol it felt like a blessing. It gave me relief and eased the constant pain that I was in. But, I always felt horrible the next day. Of course I felt horrible physically from the hangover, but there was something else. I noticed very early on in my drinking days that other people seemed to be hungover like me, but they had a lightness and a laughter in their recounting of the night before that I couldn’t relate to. I could fake that I related, but I didn’t. I always felt crushing shame. It wasn’t about the things I’d done or said. Sometimes I behaved just fine and other times I was out of control. Either way the shame was always there. The things I did and said when I was fucked up simply gave me a place to rest the constant and crushing blows of self hatred I dealt to myself in each and every moment of my life. The cause of my shame was inherent.
Alcohol served a purpose. It saved me in many ways. It eased the shame and self hatred by putting it on hold, but it didn’t go away. It only backed up like a traffic jam when the highway is shut down for an accident. The shame didn’t disappear it just waited. Waited and revved the engine, ready to take off as soon as the road cleared. On those mornings after, as I woke, all the feelings raced back in. Like a wall of cars crashing into me. Tearing my skin. Crushing my bones.
In the early days I wasn’t yet a daily drinker. I had periods of time between drunks when I had to just sit with the flood of feelings that rushed in after being temporarily held at bay. I learned early on that I just had to ride it out. Alcoholics and addicts have a tremendous capacity for pain. I was proud of my pain tolerance and my ability to hold everything in while my insides settled back down. I felt a warped sense of accomplishment amid the storm of feelings. No matter how bad it was I could fake it and ride it out.
The feelings always dissipated and let me get back to my normal, functional level of self-hatred and shame. Like white noise, these feelings were my constant companions that calmed and soothed me in a familiar, though destructive, way. They were the canvas on which I painted my days, my life.
So, recovery? I don’t know about recovery so much. Even though I’ve referred to myself as being “in recovery” over the past 10 years, it doesn’t feel quite right to me anymore. I wore the words proudly for years. They were the correct uniform to put on now that I was sober. But the term “recovery” is incomplete.
Sobriety, at least the kind of sobriety I want to have, requires fundamental change. It require a shit ton of emotional work that is insanely hard and can only be faced head on. With deep internal change comes a change in perception and the concept of recovery no longer paints the entire picture of my experience. I don’t remember a time when I felt okay, so I don’t know what there is to recover.
Uncovering and discovering. That feels more right to me. Those words feel true. Part of why I’m able to stay willing to do the work that is required is because I know that it’s just part of the process of uncovering who I truly am. Discovering that there is someone that is worthy of more than hatred, someone that doesn’t have to feel shame in order to function, and learning to operate from that place is my work. There’s always more to uncover, more to discover, so I’m giving up on REcovery and embracing UNcovery as I continue along this path of unlearning.
Until next time…